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I shall now turn from the powers to the way in which the GLA operates. The Government have come up with broadly the correct package of changes to improve the way that the GLA works without unbalancing the arrangements between the Mayor and the assembly, which were very carefully crafted when the structure
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was put in place. Under that architecture, the Mayor is clearly, unequivocally, in the driving seat, with executive powers, while the role of the assembly is to scrutinise, to hold the Mayor to account and to test whether the Mayor’s strategies are as effective and robust as they need to be to meet London’s needs.

The proposed changes do not seek to alter that, despite the pressures applied from some quarters to extend greater executive powers to the assembly. That would be confusing, and inconsistent with the “strong mayor” model that is at the heart of the GLA system of governance. The proposed changes respect the overall structure, but refine the way in which it operates, and they are generally sensible, modest and incremental reforms. The Mayor will rightly be required to have regard to the assembly’s views before finalising his strategies, and he will be obliged to give reasons when rejecting assembly proposals.

On staffing matters, the assembly will be empowered to hold confirmation hearings for a limited number of senior posts, but it will not be able to veto appointments. In both of those respects, the assembly’s scrutiny role is being strengthened without undermining the Mayor’s executive powers. The head of paid service will take over responsibility for appointments, in line with normal public service patterns. However, in its representations the assembly makes a valid point when questioning whether that power should extend to changes in the overall establishment without such changes being subject to scrutiny. That question should be considered in Committee.

On the budget, the Bill sensibly proposes a split to identify separately the proportion of the budget attributable to the assembly, as against the proportion necessary to meet the Mayor’s requirements. The current proposals incorporate a rather complex formula to cap any increase in the budget attributable to the assembly, without any comparable mechanism to establish a floor below which the assembly’s budget cannot be reduced. The assembly perfectly reasonably thinks that that is unfair and one-sided. I understand that it believes that the current Mayor has been generous in providing for the assembly’s needs and it does not doubt that he will continue to be so, but it fears that under a different regime that might not be the case. It also argues that if it is necessary to provide safeguards against unreasonable increases in the level of the assembly budget, comparable safeguards should apply to ensure that no future Mayor could vengefully reduce the assembly’s resources to prevent effective scrutiny.

With those reservations, I am happy to confirm my strong support for the proposals in the Bill, which will help the GLA continue to develop successfully and provide the effective city-wide leadership that our capital needs and deserves. I look forward to the Bill being enacted.

6.27 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), and I welcome the central role that he played in securing
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much-needed London governance for London. He will know that my party wanted to go further, and in some respects—in particular, rail—we are going further along the lines for which we called.

The Bill brings back fond memories of the Greater London Authority Bill of 1999, with its 425 clauses and 34 schedules, and of the first mayoral election and the shambolic selection of the Labour candidate. It reminds me of the debates about the congestion charge. I recall one that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and I attended at which all the parties except mine predicted that congestion charging would lead to gridlock and various disasters in London. That has not proved to be the case. Labour Members talk very positively now about the congestion charge, but before its introduction they were almost totally silent on the subject. Labour Members also now proudly proclaim that Ken Livingstone is their Labour Mayor, but that was not quite the case four or five years ago.

Kate Hoey: My issue with the congestion charge was that the Mayor and those in authority would not acknowledge that it was dividing the community in Kennington, and the Mayor has still not listened or made any changes. People living in a single community were being treated very differently. That issue with the congestion charge still has not been solved for my constituents.

Tom Brake: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I think that she used the word “gridlock” in a number of debates, but there has not been gridlock.

A highlight of our debates on the Bill was what became chapter VII on public-private partnerships. In debate after debate, we told the Government that PPP would be expensive, cumbersome and that it would not work. Just a couple of weeks ago in The Guardian, the PPP arbiter, Chris Bolt, criticised Metronet, one of the two consortiums, for a “deficient” management structure and poor performance. Metronet estimates that the contract faces a cost overrun of £750 million by 2010. So we were right on that score.

In 1999, we pressed for the Mayor to be given more powers to control rail. They were denied, and in his speech the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich explained why. It was clearly a rearguard action on the part of the then Transport Secretary to oppose any further shift of those powers. Of course, the Government are now moving in our direction and are seeking to give the Mayor greater powers over rail. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey), who cannot be here today, will certainly be asking the Mayor to play a more active role in dealing with peak fares in his constituency, which are due to rise by more than a third in January. The Mayor needs to take firmer action on rail.

In spite of our reservations about the PPP, Liberal Democrats welcomed the creation of the Greater London authority, which devolved power from central Government to London government. Although we object strongly to some of the Bill’s clauses—particularly those on planning, to which I shall turn shortly—its direction of travel is to be welcomed. It will enable the Mayor to draw up strategies for climate change, health and housing, to take over responsibility
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from the Government for the Museum of London, to set up a separate budget for the assembly, to hold confirmation hearings for some appointments, and so on. I wonder, however, how fruitful the Mayor’s setting up of a health strategy will be, given that so many of these decisions are being taken in and around London by unelected trusts. They are unlikely to listen to any of his concerns and will proceed with accident and emergency closures without his having much of a say.

Three tests for the Bill will determine whether it arrives at its destination in one piece. First, does it devolve greater powers to London; secondly, is there greater devolution within London; thirdly, is there more accountability for the Mayor? As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), who spoke for the official Opposition, said, greater devolution to London must spell the end of Whitehall’s Government office for London. As the GLA’s budget and staffing levels have grown in recent years, so have GOL’s. It is an extra tier of bureaucracy that must now be scrapped. In a speech made just a couple of days ago, the Prime Minister talked about a bonfire of red tape, but I listened in vain for the announcement that GOL was for the chop.

Members could be forgiven for thinking that spending on GOL would decline as responsibilities and powers were passed to the Mayor and the GLA. That has not happened. A graph has been published that tells the story: since 2000, spending has continued to rise at a dramatic rate, year on year. Admittedly, there was a slight drop in 2000, but since then both spending on GOL and its staffing levels have increased. In addition to having a ballooning budget, it overlaps many of the functional bodies that have been established in legislation, in that it works in the same areas. For instance, according to GOL’s website,

Why is that not the preserve of the Mayor and Transport for London?

In addition to areas of overlap, there are matters for which GOL has sole responsibility that surely would sit more comfortably with the GLA and its functional bodies. Let us consider people and sustainable communities. According to its website, GOL is responsible for a wide range of activities to promote sustainable communities. It oversees the delivery of neighbourhood renewal policy, including local strategic partnerships, neighbourhood management, the new deal for communities, and so on. It also works with a wide range of voluntary sector and community organisations that are at the heart of regeneration and community cohesion in London. Surely such matters should be the responsibility of the Mayor and of the Greater London assembly.

On the second test, greater devolution within London must mean the Mayor taking powers from central Government, not grasping powers such as planning controls from local councils. We will oppose a planning controls smash-and-grab by the Mayor, who already has a rather unhealthy interest in planning applications that cannot be considered strategic. His comments about many planning applications are certainly not of a strategic nature. Let us take the example of a planning application in Carshalton, in my
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constituency, that the hon. Member for Beckenham mentioned earlier. I do not want to go over the top, lest it leads to further delays to that project, but very significant delays arose as a result of the Mayor’s intervention. The impact on the ground was that people living in Durand close—a ’60s estate—who had expected to move to new properties were unable to do so. As a result of the Mayor’s intervention, the whole project was delayed and there was a knock-on effect on costs. Indeed, he has intervened in 1,200 applications since taking office, and it is clear that not all those interventions were of a strategic nature.

In dealing with people’s concerns about the Mayor’s taking responsibility for planning controls, the cure is simple. Deleting clauses 31 to 35 would restore the planning status quo and avoid the problem that would be created by having to define an application of potential strategic importance. That is what we will seek to achieve in Committee. If the Minister, as she mentioned in her opening statement, does manage to secure the agreement of the GLA, the Mayor, and the London councils and boroughs on a way forward—if she finds something that satisfies all their concerns, and that does not impinge on the powers of local authorities—we will of course reconsider. However, we need a fall-back position that assumes that the Minister or the bodies that she is liaising with will not be up to that very substantial challenge. If the Government decide to push through these proposals, the transparency issues that other Members have raised will have to be addressed. The Mayor will have to be much more transparent in his approach to planning; indeed, we would expect from him the same degree of transparency that prevails among local authorities.

The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said that he does not support third-party representations, but it is my understanding that the Mayor is inclined to allow such representations in respect of planning applications that he decides to approve.

Mr. Raynsford: I was simply making the point that I did not support the principle of third-party rights of appeal. That is a very different matter from informal arrangements for representations, which can be introduced within the existing system.

Tom Brake: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that helpful clarification. It is important to note, however, that the Mayor is apparently offering an opportunity for third-party representations before a decision is taken.

I turn to the third test that the Bill must pass—greater accountability. It is clear that the Bill will grant the Mayor additional powers, and the trade-off must be that he must demonstrate greater accountability. In our view, the Bill must be changed to require the Mayor to secure the support of a majority of assembly members for his budget, rather than of the derisory third who can currently sign it off. We could then bring an end to his spending spree, which has seen his charge to London’s taxpayers increase by more than 100 per cent. in just four years. Greater accountability will also require the Mayor to explain when and why he has accepted responses to his consultations, and when and why he has rejected them.

Finally, greater accountability will also require the Mayor to hold office for two terms only. Given that he is
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being granted additional powers to appoint his representatives to various bodies, there is a risk that he will create a coterie of cronies—a cabal of consorts. Restricting him to two terms in office would reduce that risk.

My hon. Friends and I will try to improve the Bill and, in one respect at least—the Mayor’s planning powers—to emasculate it. The test for the Government will be to convert the Bill into a measure that devolves power to and within London, and delivers more mayoral accountability. We shall support the Bill’s Second Reading, but our support is conditional. The Bill should complete the unfinished devolutionary work started in the 1999 Act. If it does so, it will receive our support during its later stages; if it does not, and merely replaces a benevolent but despotic regime, central Government, by giving another, Ken Livingstone, unchecked powers to ride roughshod over the wishes of local people, we shall oppose it.

6.40 pm

Mr. Andrew Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): I welcome the Bill and shall confine my comments to its housing and planning aspects. When my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning opened the debate, she was right to say that the aim of the Bill is to give strategic responsibility for housing and planning to a democratically elected London-wide government. However, Members on both sides of the House are also right to raise concerns about the possibility of over-interference by the mayoralty in local matters.

I can best illustrate that by giving the example of a local case that I dealt with in my constituency. It relates to an area universally known as the Allied Carpets site, which is on a busy junction but in a residential area of Shepherd’s Bush, overlooking a prominent park. A 10-storey block of flats was deemed suitable by a developer, although not by the then Labour-controlled local council, in what had previously been a purely residential area where buildings did not rise more than three storeys. At some point the Greater London authority expressed the view that the development was suitable, very much in line with the idea, which may be on the wane, that the higher the better.

I have no prejudice against tall buildings but to put what was, in essence, a tower block in an area of Victorian streets was deemed inappropriate, particularly by everybody who lived in the area. We all make mistakes, however, and I took comfort from the fact that the GLA chose not to appear at the planning inquiry and, indeed, seemed to withdraw. The planning inspector, faced by persuasive arguments from me and local Labour councillors and residents, turned down the appeal.

The case illustrates not whether the GLA was right or wrong, but that we need clear guidelines, which relates to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) referred to as mission creep. We need clear guidelines so that when matters are genuinely local there is no interference from the GLA. The case I described was a perfect example of that; the development was important for the locality but by no stretch of the imagination was it strategic for London.

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Jeremy Corbyn: In an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) raised the whole question of appeals. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) not concerned that if there is no appeal process against a mayoral decision to grant permission, only the rich and powerful, who can afford to go to judicial review, would be able to challenge a decision? Neighbourhood groups, such as the one that he ably represented in that local case, would not have the wherewithal to challenge such decisions.

Mr. Slaughter: My hon. Friend makes the point well. He picks up the point I was making: clear guidance is needed, as the Minister acknowledged when she opened the debate, to show when we are dealing with strategic powers. Where I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) is that it would be inappropriate to give the Mayor additional powers, as I shall explain. Apart from guidelines being important in themselves, they are important because they would shoot the fox that has been raised—

Jeremy Corbyn: There should be a check on the powers.

Mr. Slaughter: I would hate to misrepresent my hon. Friend’s views—that is the last thing I come into the Chamber to do.

Apart from any other considerations, clear guidelines would shoot the fox that the Opposition parties have raised—that the measure is somehow an anti-democratic grabbing of powers from the localities. It is not, by any means. Given the state of planning powers in London, especially for housing, no one can doubt that some reform and strategic intervention are needed, which are not delivered in existing legislation, whether in infrastructure, economic development or in housing—the aspect I particularly want to address.

I do not know which survey the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), was citing when she gave her figures; I can assume only it was a survey of Bromley planners. London-wide surveys, carried out by the GLA, have shown that 83 per cent. of Londoners support the Mayor’s proposal for 50 per cent. affordable housing and that 50 per cent. agree with the extension of planning powers for the Mayor, with only 33 per cent. against. Notwithstanding all the Opposition scaremongering, that is a clear indication that reform is needed.

Mr. Mark Field: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that flexibility is needed for housing targets, especially in inner London? A strict 50 per cent. limit runs the risk that developers will simply sit on their hands and do nothing, which has been the story in London over the past few years. Land was available for development, but developers decided that to put aside 40 or 50 per cent. of the development for social housing would make it economically unviable.

Mr. Slaughter: I do not want to associate the hon. Gentleman too much with his local authority, but when I hear the word “flexibility” from Westminster, or from many Tory councils in London, I begin to bridle. It is usually a euphemism for “We don’t want it here”. We
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heard earlier from the Opposition spokesperson that Bromley was full up, so the borough could take no more affordable homes.

Mr. Dismore: When we were in the byways of Westminster, I was taken back to my days as leader of the Labour group on Westminster council, when the district auditor uncovered the fact that the council’s policy, under Lady Porter, was to be

Mr. Slaughter: I take with a pinch of salt the protestations of Tory Members and Tory councils that they have real difficulty in building affordable housing. If Hackney council can obtain an allocation for 1,636 homes from the Housing Corporation for the period 2006-08, it seems unlikely—I put it no stronger than that—that Bromley, which, as we know, is a far more congested and much smaller borough, would get an allocation for only 43.

Mr. Hands: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a certain irony in the fact that Westminster City council will be the first in Britain to reach the decent homes standard? Does not that show a change of heart? Secondly, I want to return to his point about whether people support their local council or the London Mayor having planning powers. I think that the survey referred to earlier was an NOP survey commissioned by London Councils, which showed that

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